It has been a wild weekend at the Capitol, featuring round the clock negotiations and plenty of brinkmanship. Legislators are racing to get the major budget bills passed before midnight on Monday. Here is the status of the major budget bills and the library issues within them:
E-12 EDUCATION: Early Friday afternoon House Speaker Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Bakk announced to the media that they had reached an agreement on budget targets. Significantly, Governor Dayton did not appear with them. On Saturday morning the Governor announced that he did not agree with the $400 million target set by Bakk and Daudt for increased funding for education. Dayton said that he would veto any bill providing less than $550 million, with at least $173 million for expanding school-based preschool for all 4 year olds. Despite the veto threat, Bakk and Daudt directed the education conferees to proceed with negotiating a $400 million bill.
The conference committee put in long hours and finally met in public to unveil their agreement at 1am Sunday morning, wrapping up the meeting at 3am. Here are the major components of the bill:
General Education Formula: The general education formula will increase by 1.5% in FY 16 and by 2% in FY 17. This is the main source of funding for school library media programs. 72% of the $400 million went for this increase in the general education formula.
Early Learning: The competition between supporters of early learning scholarships and those of school-based preschool programs was at times tense. In the end, legislators decided to increase the scholarships by $30.75 million over the next 2 years and to increase School Readiness (a school-based program for at-risk children) by the same amount. The bill also includes $3.5 million for the Parent Aware early childhood rating system. This ate up another 17% of the $400 million. They did not include Governor Dayton’s proposal for preschool for all 4 year olds, which may cause the bill to be vetoed.
School Facilities: The bill includes $32 million for facilities maintenance. Funding for facilities maintenance was the top priority of rural schools.
As you can tell, these major components left almost nothing for other initiatives. As a result, the bill includes no additional funding for libraries, telecommunications equity aid or after school programs.
The bill does include the language aligning Regional Library Telecommunications Aid with the federal e-rate program. It also repeals the requirement that schools have a technology plan on file with MDE in order to be eligible for Telecommunications Equity Aid.
What if the bill is vetoed? If the Governor vetoes the bill, the usual scenario would be for the Governor and legislative leaders to negotiate a new bill and then for the Governor to call a special session to pass the bill. However, the renovation of the Capitol calls for the House and Senate chambers and all offices in the Capitol to be shut down on Tuesday, May 19. Legislators have been warned that a delay to accommodate a special session would be very costly. There has been speculation that an education bill is not needed because the general education formula would continue to be paid to schools without passing an education bill. However, all other streams of funding would cease, including library appropriations. In a memo to the media, Commissioner Cassellius pointed out that even schools would not get their money because MDE would have no budget to pay staff to process payments.
HIGHER EDUCATION: The higher education conference committee reached agreement on its bill last night, and the bill just passed on the Senate floor by a vote of 57-8. It will next go to the House for passage. The bill maintains current funding for Minitex and MnLINK. It increases funding for the University of Minnesota by $53.2 million and for MnSCU by $101.4 million.
LEGACY: The Legacy conference committee convened shortly after midnight on Saturday night /Sunday morning. The arts and cultural heritage article was discussed first. As initially presented, it included the House position on funding for regional public libraries of $1.5 million in FY 16 and $2.5 million in FY 17. After a brief recess, the conferees returned and Senator Cohen said that the one area that made him “a little queasy” was library funding, and he moved to add $200,000 per year to the appropriation. It passed unanimously. The final number is $1.7 million in FY 16 and $2.7 million in FY 17. Thank you to all of you who contacted the conferees. I do think it made a difference.
The Legacy bill also includes $300,000 per year for the Minnesota Digital Library. That is the same as the current level of funding for MDL.
TAXES: The agreement between Speaker Daudt and Majority Leader Bakk is that there will be no tax bill this year. House Republicans had wanted more than $2 billion in tax cuts. In return, Senate DFLers agreed to pass only a “lights on” transportation bill, rather than the comprehensive funding bill that had been their top priority. The agreement leaves about $1.4 billion on the bottom line for legislators to use next year for tax cuts and a transportation package.
Governor Dayton is scheduled to hold a press conference later today. I will keep you posted if anything major changes.
Elaine Keefe, Capitol Hill Associates